We are Hanno Beck, Lindy Davies, Fred Foldvary, Mike O'Mara, Jeff Smith, and assorted volunteers, all dedicated to bringing you the news and views that make a difference in our species struggle to win justice, prosperity, and eco-librium.
Nature is not random. The laws of nature create structural designs like the roots of a tree. This phenomenon is explained by a theory called “constructal law”. This explanation applies to all flows in physics, biology, and human society. The term “constructal” was created by Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering, in 1996. Constructal law proposes that a system evolves towards maximizing the work done by flows of currents, relative to the inputs of matter and energy. The tendency towards better flows creates a hierarchical design.
In physics, work equals force times displacement. A force such as gravity or sunlight or a human action pushes and pulls things into a different speed or direction. A river does work by moving or displacing water. In the physical world (apart from biology), the natural tendency of flows such as rivers is to evolve structures that increase the flow of the inputs such as rain. This physical law then applies to living beings such as trees, which ingest water and other materials and move these through the organism.
The structure that maximizes the work of flows is similar to the roots and branches of a tree. Why is a tree not simply one long trunk, without branches, with leaves growing directly on the trunk? Because branching maximizes the work done by the flowing of the ingested water.
Much of what happens in nature is flows of materials and energy. Rivers are flows of rain water that start as creeks, creating a structure like tree roots, with small rivers flowing into larger rivers and ultimately a giant river such as the Mississippi. The water ultimately flows into an ocean, and evaporation sends it back into the atmosphere. This structure maximizes the flow of the water. The bodies of plants and animals too are flows of air, water, and foods taken in, which energize the body, become transformed, and then flow out. Your body is a dynamic input-output flow machine.
The constructal law is a law of evolution as well as structure. Systems like rivers and living beings evolve over time towards the maximization of the work done by flows. Human-built structures such as traffic follow the constructal tree-design concept; cities have local streets, larger avenues, and freeways.
Human society is constructal, but people in power can change the governing structures to conform to a greater or lesser degree with the concept of facilitating flows. If in a large country, power is centralized, so that the state attempts to plan the whole economy, this is in contradiction to constructal design. It is like a tree that has only a trunk. The economy will generate waste and function far below its potential.
Human economic action follows the constructal law by maximizing benefits and minimizing costs. In their book Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization, Adrian Bejan and J. Peder Zane cite the American economist Henry George, who in his book Progress and Poverty stated as an axiom of economics that people seek to satisfy their desires with minimum exertion.
Constructal law can be applied to governance with the concept of federalism, having several layers of governance. The lower or more local levels need to have some independence of decision making in order to enhance economic flows, as inputs get processed into products. A free market maximizes the work done by flows for a set of inputs, as the knowledge needed to process the flows of goods is decentralized. Knowledge itself has a tree structure, with some knowledge centralized into recorded forms, but much of the knowledge being decentralized ultimately in the minds of producers and consumers. Only you know what products are best for you, and the best use of your time and skills cannot be totally directed by others.
Optimal public finance can operate constructally with two principles. First, maximize the flow of revenues for collective goods by avoiding taxes on the inputs and on the outputs. That implies that there be no tax on the flow of labor, no tax on the value added by production, and no tax on the products. Instead, public revenue should be based on the potential flow of the surplus from production, and that surplus is land rent, which flows from the resources of nature.
Constructal law implies that the flow of rent not be collected by the central government of a large economy, nor by small neighborhoods. Like a tree that has both branches and roots attached to the trunk, optimal public finance proposes that the land rent flow from the roots, the residential and commercial title holders, up to the trunk, the county-level governance. From the county the funds would flow up to the state or provincial level, and from there to the federal or national government.
In an interview with The Freeman magazine, Bejan said that freedom promotes better designs, because constraints limit evolution towards better flows. Acts which are coercively harmful hamper the voluntary flow of human action. Therefore, governance can promote the flows of social and economic action by not restricting or taxing peaceful and honest human action.
Government should also avoid subsidies that alter the market prices of goods and profits of firms, since these also interfere with freely-chosen flows. The public goods provided by government become a subsidy to land rent, when that rent is not paid back to the providers. Constructal public finance implies that the flow of rent generated by governmental goods be returned to its source, creating a circular flow like the rain that falls on water and is then evaporated back into the air.
The prescription for a prosperous economy discovered by the French Economists of the 1700s and explained by Henry George in the 1800s is that which best implements constructal public finance: free trade and public revenue from land rent.
Why, despite our technological capacities, are we not all working three- to four-hour days?
This 2013 excerpt of the Sydney Morning Herald, Spt 3, is by David Graeber is a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. This article first appeared in Strike! Magazine, a radical British quarterly that covers politics, philosophy and art.
In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour working week. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen.
In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people in the Western world spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound.
Why did utopia never materialise? The standard line is the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. However, few jobs have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.
So what are these new jobs, precisely? Productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be). What’s been ballooning are jobs in the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries such as financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors such as corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza-delivery drivers) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.
These are what I propose to call ”bullshit jobs”.
What does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1 per cent of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call ”the market” reflects what those people think is useful or important, not anyone else.)
There is a whole class of salaried professionals who, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their jobs really are.
How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist?
The more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. What would happen were this entire class of people to disappear? Nurses, rubbish collectors, or mechanics: were they to vanish, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or stevedores would soon be in trouble, and even one without science-fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity chief executives, lobbyists, public relations researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.)
Ed. Notes: The solution is simple: an income apart from one’s labor or one’s capital but from the value of the land and resources in one’s region. Technology pushes up the value of locations and natural resources. Recover and share those values and we can work as much or as little as we choose, at tasks we choose, and play as much as or as little as we choose, too.
This 2013 excerpt of Total Investor, Now , is Mark Hollingsworth.
The UK population is expected to grow by 17.5% in the next twenty years. Already, the 2011 Census results show the greatest increase in the UK population since records began 200 years ago. Existing housing needs to increase by 29% by 2031 in order to meet the demand.
For investors, there is clearly an opportunity to capitalize on this housing and land shortage.
The key to its success is that land is acquired prior to actual planning permission being granted [when its price will be higher.
The share prices of the five biggest house builders rose by an average 71% last year.
Our preferred ‘land fund’ returned over 14% last year and returns are on track to be equally as strong this year on the back of further aggressive acquisitions.
Ed. Notes: Just as geonomists predicted, now’s the time to jump back into land. Even the “experts” say the time is right, but if they were really experts they would have told you to not invest in land seven years ago. The comforting thing is that we get to see actual principles in economies in operation.
We have now overshot the Earth’s resources for the year, meaning all consumption from here borrows from future generations.
This 2013 excerpt of Common Dreams, Aug 20, is by Sarah Lazare.
Tuesday, August 20 marks an unnerving annual milestone: “Earth Overshoot Day”—- when humanity has used up all of the natural resources and waste absorption that the Earth can provide in a year, meaning that human consumption for the remaining 4.5 months of 2013 is borrowed from future generations.
The concept, originally developed by the New Economics Foundation and carried forward by the Global Footprint Network, reveals a disturbing trend. “Earth Overshoot Day,” also called “Ecological Debt Day,” is arriving each year since it was first calculated in 1987, roughly three days earlier each year since 2011. Global Footprints says this trend is unequivocal since “Human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce” in the mid-1970s.
The interest we are paying on that mounting debt are food shortages, soil erosion, and the build-up of CO₂ in our atmosphere.
Not all countries borrow equally, with Europe, North America, and Qatar consuming at notably destructive paces. If everyone in the world consumed on par with the United States, it would take four Earths to sustain the international population.
This 2013 excerpt of The American, Aug 21, is by Arnold Kling.
When firms compete for government subsidies and regulatory advantages, economists call it “rent-seeking.” That is how it has been for generations. Wall Street’s rent-seeking is classic.
Once it was difficult for Wall Street firms to sell mortgage securities that lacked the Freddie or Fannie label, which investors treated as tantamount to a government guarantee. So during the subprime mortgage boom, Wall Street came up with the collateralized debt obligation, or CDO, which allowed them to market mortgage securities without a government guarantee. The trick was to create “tranches” that were so well protected against default that they could earn AA and AAA ratings from credit rating agencies. It was these tranches, backed by extremely low-quality subprime loans, that were at the heart of the financial crisis. Ironically, by 2006 and 2007, Freddie and Fannie had decided to buy their way into this market, and so they suffered some of the worst losses from low-quality mortgages.
As usual, Wall Street needed favorable regulatory rulings in order to get its subprime machine rolling. As a result, the capital requirements for a bank holding a very safe mortgage where the borrower had made a down payment of 30 percent were more onerous than those for a bank holding a CDO tranche backed by the most dodgy subprime loans with low down payments.
For Wall Street, the ideal situation is one in which taxpayers provide a guarantee that makes mortgage securities viable, banks remain hamstrung by capital requirements that penalize them for holding loans that they originate, and the government enterprise that supplies the guarantee is not permitted to have a portfolio of securities, the way Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have operated.
Today, the housing finance reforms that have the most bipartisan support appear to do exactly what Wall Street wants. Whenever this system suffers its next crisis, taxpayers will be delivering the bailout. The mortgage bankers and Wall Street firms win. You lose.
Ed. Notes: Wall Street doesn’t only get the kind of rent economists talk about — excess profit due to favors from politicians. Wall Street also gets classical rent — people’s payments for land and resources. Most people buy buildings that aren’t floating in the air but are erected firmly on the ground, and so pay for both the structure and the location. While most people might not realize it, bankers do; they know that most of their profit comes from people paying for sites, not for houses, especially in the pricier neighborhoods.
Just as bankers don’t earn modern, jargonistic “rent”, neither do they earn rent for land. They neither made land nor made locations valuable — society in general does that. Hence our payments for land and resources should return to society. Owners should pay in land taxes or Land Dues; residents should get back rent shares or a Citizen’s Dividend.
If government did recover socially-generated rents, it could quit taxing our useful efforts, those counterproductive taxes on our labor and capital. If government did pay citizens a dividend, it could quit subsidizing wasteful and addictive programs. Plus, if government stuck to this geonomic program, it would not open loopholes for Wall St nor bail them out. Then it be: “your mortgage and all of ours rents.”
This 2013 excerpt of OpEdNews, Oct 24, is by Rob Kall.
It’s usually right wingers– Republicans and Libertarians who take stances opposing government. This anti-government stance has become a meme that many moderates are embracing.
Maybe it’s time for people on the left to take their own stance criticizing government and own the meme.
Most on the left oppose too-big-to-fail corporations. Perhaps we need to look at ways to de-centralize government and shrink aspects of it that become so big they are not longer manageable or accountable. If we take on government, it may be easier to take on too-big corporations as well.
There are a number of issues that progressives may find common cause with those in the middle and on the right– which may give us the leverage to make major change happen.
The Patriot Act — a huge danger to democracy and the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution and its amendments.
a bloated, uncontrollable, unaccountable military
a bloated uncontrollable, unaccountable security/intelligence
a congress that a massive majority of Americans are disgusted with, which has surrendered its power to the White House and the Supreme Court [and Federal Reserve]
laws that people who don’t harm any person or property criminals, like marijuana possession laws.
a prison system that is bloated and unaccountable
militarization of the police, moving towards a police state, where police and prison guards can literally kill without any worry of having to be accountable
government regulatory agencies thoroughly corrupted through the appointment of agency directors and staffers with deep, long-term, conflict-of-interest ties to the industries they are supposed to regulate
an executive branch that has grabbed and amassed a record level of power
lifetime appointments for Supreme Court Justices
It could give progressive candidates a way to tap the power of the anti-government meme in a way that is synergistic with progressive values and goals. So much of how we make change happen is based on the framing, the narrative and stories we tell.
Ed. Notes: Left and Right might also agree on repealing counterproductive taxes and wasteful spending. Some even appreciate the notion of commons and replacing welfare for rich and poor with a dividend to citizens from the worth of Earth, society’s surplus, making it our common wealth. Geonomics for everyone!
This 2013 excerpt of WPRI, Aug 19, is by Ted Nesi.
Downtown Providence is dotted with surface parking lots and empty parcels.
Maybe Providence should take a page from the playbook of Altoona, Pa., and start taxing land.
Land tax has a distinguished pedigree in economics if not actual policy implementation. The idea is to shift toward taxing the value of something whose supply won’t change due to tax rates – land – instead of the buildings and other improvements made there. Doing so would spur development, pushing those who own vacant land to do something with it.
Ed. Notes: You must be pretty powerful to win subsidies even when you can’t possibly need them, as do oil companies, raking in billions every quarter. And the money they rake in is ours, its common wealth, it’s the worth of Earth, it’s our joint heritage in the gifts of nature, it’s all our spending for all the fossil fuels we use while still in the ground. It’s not the return on exploring or extracting or shipping or refining; returns to those efforts are totally legit. It’s the value of oil and gas while still untouched that belongs to us all.
Higher extraction won’t free the USA. More oil and gas merely ups our addiction.
This 2013 excerpt of USA Today, Aug 19, by Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
U.S. oil extraction may be up 44% since 2008, but don’t celebrate yet; so are prices. The costs of crude oil have risen 6% in that time. And our bad habit hasn’t wanted at all.
The fracking that is driving our oil and gas surge has grown at breakneck speed. Our public safeguards haven’t kept pace. Companies have lobbied their way around bedrock environmental laws, and states have responded with weak rules and limited enforcement.
We cannot continue down this path without safeguards that protect people, farms, and communities from toxic chemicals, contaminated water, and permanent scarring. Some places, such as those home to major drinking water supplies or rare landscapes, must be put off-limits.
More oil and gas consumption only exacerbates climate change. Last year alone, Americans suffered $140 billion in crop losses, wildfires, storm damage, and other impacts of extreme weather made worse by climate change. The federal government picked up the lion’s share of the tab at an average cost of $1,100 per taxpayer.
There are the clean energy innovations that will lead us to a stronger economy, healthier communities and a safer planet. This is what it takes for America to be truly energy independent.
A few thoughts about how to fix all of America’s problems. Well not really all of them. Problems will still exist. But one of my core beliefs is that most people overestimate the number of important problems in America while underestimating the severity of the handful of really serious problems.
This 2013 excerpt of Slate, Oct 23, is by Matthew Yglesias, author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.
So lets fix these five things:
Most tax reform proposals are lame small-beer nonsense that barely solves anything. Real tax reform starts with taxing land value (which should include the value of mineral resources), taxing pollution, taxing traffic congestion, and taxing public health hazards (alcohol, soon-to-be-legal marijuana, Fritos) in order to drastically reduce taxes on labor. There are meaningful positive externalities associated with people having jobs, so at the low end of the spectrum income taxes should be negative (mega-EITC, basically).
Innovate with prizes, not monopolies: Right now we create financial incentives for authors and inventors by handing out monopolies as rewards. This makes some sense as an idea, but it also drastically raises the cost of innovation alongside the reward to innovation. There’s a point on the tradeoff curve where you want to be, and we’ve gone well beyond that good point. We need to scale back copyright terms, scale back the scope of what’s patentable, stop letting IP issues dominate trade talks, and recognize that the socially optimal level of infringement is higher than zero. Then build back in some of the financial incentives with large prizes for inventions in key areas, especially battery technology (a key complement to clean energy) and pharmaceutical cures that can treat illness outside the scope of Baumol’s disease.
What is owed to people who struggle economically even in a healthy labor market with a generally growing economy and a progressive tax code? Such problems that appear to loom so large primarily because we don’t have a healthy labor market and a generally growing economy.
Ed. Notes: If you’re fixing everything, you have much more to say — Matt had more to say about three other issues — but if you had to pick only one, mine is recovering socially-generated “rents”, or the value of nature and privilege (things not made by anyone’s labor or capital), by charging full market value for things like deeds, titles, patents, copyrights, etc with a tax or fee or dues. Make all that money we spend for the nature we use into our common wealth.
The Triple Dividend: Climate Change Mitigation, Justice, and Investing in Capabilities
This 2013 excerpt of a slide show was presented by Prof. Dr. Ottmar Edenhofer Jun 26 at Financing Global Public Goods, Workshop at MCC.
Rents can be used for distributive purposes like the reduction of poverty, or public investment!
• Conventional economic wisdom perceives rent taxation as neutral. Therefore, this „just“ tax has the largest potential to overcome the trade‐off between justice and efficiency. Additionally, only reproducible factors in production should earn income (labor and capital).
• The taxation of rents is perceived as a way to „socialise“ the commons even with private property rights.
• However, the potential of rent taxation is not neutral. Therefore, the potential for reaping a triple dividend is widely underestimated:
Rent taxation can be combined with intergenerational transfer schemes in which the newborn are endowed with assets financed by rents.
Additionally, rent taxation can be used to finance public infrastructure. Infrastructure can be seen as an investment in capabilities for the reduction of poverty.
Climate policy enhances the „Climate Rent“ which does not only mitigate climate change but also provides additional sources for infrastructure investments and intergenerational transfer schemes.
• The triple dividend might become the main motivation for climate policy.
This 2013 excerpt of USA Today, Nov 21, is by Oliver Stone.
Although polls from 1964 on clearly signal the public’s distrust of the official story, the mainstream media have never given up telling us how superstitious or illogical the common people are in this belief.
The single bullet theory allows for one bullet, fired from the sixth floor, on a downward trajectory, to enter Kennedy’s back and then move upward, out his throat and into Texas Gov. John Connally to his front, where it zigs and zags breaking two bones and creating seven wounds. Now, I’ve been in the infantry and I’ve seen enough combat to tell you that in all the craziness of war, this “Alice in Wonderland” scenario defies physics and common sense. JFK should be going forward when he receives that shot.
More than 50 witnesses testified at the time to the Warren Commission that they heard or saw a shot coming from that fence area to the front of the president.
The Assassination Records Review Board (1994-1998) found that over 40 witnesses in two locations saw a large avulsive (i.e. penetrating outward) wound in the rear of JFK’s skull. This wound again indicates an exit wound from a shot to the front. Conclusion: The president was shot from at least two sides, front and back — not one location.
An accidental film made that day, the Zapruder film, shows a sequence of motions that indicate five, probably six shots fired. It also shows that when the president is shot in the back by the “single bullet,” that he’s moving forward while Connally is still holding his Stetson hat, which is impossible if Connally was hit by the same bullet in his right wrist. The governor himself said he was not hit by the same bullet as Kennedy and added, “I do not for one second believe the conclusions of the Warren Commission.”
Is denial some form of American exceptionalism, by which our politics are unflawed by such corruption? Is this why the media, with very few exceptions, have not allowed any serious presentation of the evidence against their official story from qualified pathologists, scientists, photographic and ballistics experts, and doctors who disagree?
As Friday approaches, please take a moment to remember that no professional marksman has replicated the Warren Commission scenario with Oswald’s flawed rifle. To my knowledge, there have been at least four attempts with professionals to simulate the shooting without that rifle. No person ever achieved what the commission said Oswald did on the first try, i.e., attain two of three direct hits in the head and shoulder area to Kennedy in six seconds. This alleged shooting has been achieved only with computer simulations.
Ed. Notes: If the government were not afraid of the truth, why weren’t neutral investigators put in charge of the investigation? Why did their Navy doctor destroy evidence? And why did private investigators have to be the ones to release the Zapruder film?
This 2013 excerpt of CNBC, Aug 19, is by Matt Clinch.
Virtual currency bitcoin has been recognized by the German Finance Ministry as a “unit of account”. Does that mean it can be used for tax and trading purposes in the country?
Bitcoin is not classified as e-money or a foreign currency, the Finance Ministry said in a statement, but is rather a financial instrument under German banking rules. It is more akin to “private money” that can be used in “multilateral clearing circles”, the Ministry said.
“We should have competition in the production of money. I have long been a proponent of Friedrich August von Hayek scheme to denationalize money. Bitcoins are a first step in this direction,”said Frank Schaeffler, a member of the German parliament’s Finance Committee, who has pushed for legal classification of bitcoins.
Bitcoin is a virtual currency that allows users to exchange online credits for goods and services. While there is no central bank that issues them, bitcoins can be created online by using a computer to complete difficult tasks, a process known as mining. Currently one bitcoin is worth just over $119.
Legal classification of bitcoin means that commercial profits that stem from using the currency may be taxable. Classification by the German government gave bitcoin legitimacy to be used as a settlement currency in one of the world’s largest economies. This was a big step forward for the bitcoin movement.
Bitcoin could become an alternative to the euro if the single currency ever ceased to exist. Success for bitcoin rests on regulatory fair-treatment and the existence of a level playing field with other currencies.
“A free country should resist and not intervene in citizen’s private choice of money. In my opinion the production of money is none of the government’s business,” Schaeffler said.
Update 1 (Nov 21): The University of Nicosia has begun accepting bitcoins as payment for its courses, as well as launching a Master of Science degree focusing on digital currencies. The suggestion that we here at the Progress Report accept them, too, sounds good.
Update 2 (Nov 5): Reader Simon Lelieveldt says: “The legal tender qualification of the CNBC article was incorrect and has been taken off-line. See also my blog, further presenting the analysis and source documents: http://moneyandpayments.simonl.org/2013/08/bitcoin-legal-classification-in-germany.html”
Ed. Notes: What government should do is not monopolize legal tender but merely set the standards that any currency must reach — number of users, retaining its value — in order to be accepted as legal tender. Ironically, the currency of the Federal Reserve (which Congress allowed to replace US Notes) could not meet the second criterion for sound money. Could that be why the state and elite in America resist competition?
This 2013 excerpt of CNN, Nov 6, is by Karla Cripps.
Large schools of giant Nomura’s jellyfish, which have bodies ranging one to 1.5 meters in diameter, drift into Japanese waters in autumn and damage coastal fisheries. At the beginning of October, a large amount of jellyfish inhabiting a cooling-water intake at a Swedish nuclear plant caused operators to manually shut down production at its largest reactor. In Ireland, a jellyfish bloom reportedly killed thousands of farmed salmon.
This past summer, southern Europe experienced one of its worst jellyfish infestations ever. Experts there have been reporting a steady increase in the number of jellyfish in the Mediterranean Sea for years. The situation in the Mediterranean was dire enough to prompt Britain’s foreign office to issue a warning to its citizens vacationing along Europe’s southern coast to watch out for jellyfish.
Many of the world’s deadliest jellyfish are box jellyfish, which refers to the species’ cube-shaped meduae. There are several species of big box jellyfish that have caused many deaths — these include chironex fleckeri in Australia, chironex quadrigatus in Japan and related species in Thailand, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
Also known as the sea wasp and the northern Australian box jellyfish, the chironex fleckeri is possibly the worlds most venomous animal. Its tentacles can reach lengths of up to three meters long, while its bell is about the size of a human head. It can be found throughout the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific. A close cousin and fellow contender for the “world’s most venomous” cup is the Irukandji, which is the size of a thimble. Good luck scanning the waters for that one before you leap in.
Just the lightest brush — you don’t even feel it — and then, whammo, you’re in more pain than you ever could have imagined, and you are struggling to breathe and you can’t move your limbs and you can’t stop vomiting and your blood pressure just keeps going up and up.
Tourists who avoid an area because of the known risk may alter their plans to hit a “safe” beach whose officials are merely less up front about the jellyfish situation, putting themselves more at risk. A common misconception is that places such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines are free of dangerous jellyfish.
The explosion in jellyfish populations is a visible indicator that life in the oceans is out of balance. So many species are in such low numbers, and habitats are so badly damaged, that restoring them to their original splendor is difficult.
Ed. Notes: Do you care? If so, use every tool in our arsenal. Not just better technologies. Not just better lifestyles. Not just better laws. But also, most importantly, use economic justice. Why? Because people ruin the planet not intentionally but as an untended consequence of making a living. So make making a living easier, less wasteful, and more just. Use geonomics.
This 2013 excerpt of Other Worlds, Aug 18, is by Tory Field and Beverly Bell.
Miriam Miranda is a leader of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), which works with the 46 communities of the Afro-indigenous Garífuna of Honduras, to defend their territories, natural resources, identity, and rights. Miriam’s narrative below is from an interview with Beverly Bell.
We live on the Atlantic coast of Honduras. We are a mix of African descendants and indigenous peoples who came about more than 200 years ago in the island of San Vicente. Without our land, we cease to be a people. Our lands and identities are critical to our lives, our waters, our forests, our culture, our global commons, our territories.
If you map out the conflicts that are threatening our country, you’ll see they reflect exactly where transnational capital is trying to take more resources from indigenous peoples. Maybe you believe that president Mel Zelaya was ousted in a coup d’état [in 2009] because he was a leftist. No. It was because [those with wealth] wanted to take land and resources, which they are now doing.
In Honduras, they’re taking land that we were using to grow beans and rice so they can grow African palm for bio-fuel. The intention is to stop the production of food that humans need so they can produce fuel that cars need. The more food scarcity that exists, the more expensive food will become. The mono-cultivation of some of these crops [for bio-fuel] requires thousands of millions of acres of land. Food sovereignty is being threatened everywhere.
The Atlantic Coast of Honduras is the main narco-trafficking route. Almost 90% of the drugs that are going to the North pass through Honduras. We’re exactly in the way of the trafficking and we’re so vulnerable. Honduras has one of the highest levels of crime and violence [per capita] of any country that is not actually at war.
We live almost on the sea, right on the beach. It’s a blessing but recently it’s also become a curse, because of course all those with power want to have a place on the beach. The Honduran government has started on some tourism mega-projects. The displacement of communities and the loss of cultures that come with the development of tourism [is increasing].
We have created our own media, a community radio station for the Garífuna. In response to mass media trying to block the protection of our indigenous territories, we have created alliances with the four other community radios, and have started – together with COPINH [Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras] a Mesoamerica Network of Community Radio.
Everywhere throughout Honduras, like in all of Latin America, Africa, Asia, women, many of them elders, are at the forefront of the struggles for our rights, against racial discrimination, for the defense of our commons and our survival. We’re at the front not only with our bodies but also with our force, our ideas, our proposals. We don’t only birth children, but ideas and actions as well.
Ed. Notes: People disagreeing over who gets to use which land for which purpose is ongoing, as long as people move around, population grows, and technology advances. But is it fair for one side to always win such disputes? How could the competition be settled fairly and peacefully?
One key component is to make the two sides more equal. Right now, it’s like the New York Yankees vs. a Little League team — nothing fair about that at all. To make the debate fair, both sides need roughly equal power, and since political power comes from economic power, there can’t be such a huge gulf in the income and wealth of the two sides.
The way to close the gulf is not by redistribution from the haves to the have-nots but by predistribution, by distributing the worth of Earth before an elite or state can keep such natural value for themselves. That means residents would pay in to the public treasury land taxes or Land Dues equal to the annual rental value of their location — and sites vary widely in their value — and residents would get back shares of the recovered rents in equal amounts, no citizen getting any more than anyone else. It’s sort of like what Alaska does with oil revenue and Singapore with land revenue. Then, on such a level playing field, disputants could reach an agreement fair for both people and planet — besides raising the indigenous up out of poverty, into a more comfortable, equitable, and admirable life.
a scientific look at how we divvy up the work and the wealth, how some of us end up with too much or too little effort or reward. That’s partly due to Ricardo’s Law of Rent, showing how wasteful use of Earth cuts wages. And it’s partly due to how a society’s elite runs government around like water boys, dishing out subsidies and tax breaks. While geonomists look political reality right in the eye, without blinking, conventional economists flinch. When Paul Volcker, ex-chief of the Federal Reserve, moved on to a cushy professorship at Princeton cum book contract, the crush of deadlines bore down. So Volcker asked a junior associate to help with the book. The guy refused, explaining that giving serious consideration to policy would ruin his academic career. The ex-Fed chief couldn’t believe it and asked the department chair if truly that were the case. That head honcho pondered the question then replied no, not if he only does it once. And economics was AKA political economy!
the study of the money we spend on the nature we use. When we pay that money to private owners, we reward both speculation and over-extraction. Robert Kiyosaki’s bestseller, Rich Dad’s Prophecy, says, “One of the reasons McDonald’s is such a rich company is not because it sells a lot of burgers but because it owns the land at some of the best intersections in the world. The main reason Kim and I invest in such properties is to own the land at the corner of the intersection. (p 200) My real estate advisor states that the rich either made their money in real estate or hold their money in real estate.” (p 141, via Greg Young) When government recovers the rents for natural advantages for everyone, it can save citizens millions. Ben Sevack, Montreal steel manufacturer, tells us (August 12) that Alberta, by leasing oil & gas fields, recovers enough revenue to be the only province in Canada to get by without a sales tax and to levy a flat provincial income tax. While running for re-election, provincial Premier Ralph Klein proposes to abolish their income tax and promises to eliminate medical insurance premiums and use resource revenue to pay for all medical expense for seniors. After all this planned tax-cutting and greater expense, they still expect a large budget surplus. Even places without oil and gas have high site values in their downtowns, and high values in their utility franchises. Recover the values of locations and privileges, displace the harmful taxes on sales, salaries, and structures, then use the revenue to fund basic government and pay residents a dividend, and you have geonomics in action.
of interest to Dave Lakhani, President Bold Approach (Mar 8) and Matt Ozga (Jan 29): “I write for the Washington Square News, the student run newspaper out of New York University. Geonomics seems like it has great significance, especially in this area. When was geonomics developed, and by whom?”
About 1982 I began. Two years later, Chilean Dr Manfred Max-Neef offered the term geonomics for Earth-friendly economics. In the mid-80s, a millionaire founded a Geonomics Institute on Middlebury College campus in Vermont re global trade. In the 1990s, CNBC cablecast a show, Geonomics, on world trade as it benefits world traders. My version of geonomics draws heavily from the American Henry George who wrote Progress & Poverty (1879) and won the mayoralty of New York but was denied his victory by Tammany Hall (1886). He in turn got lots from Brits David Ricardo, Adam Smith, and the French physiocrats of the 1700s. My version differs by focusing not on taxation but on the flow of rents for sites, resources, sinks, and government-granted privileges. Forgoing these trillions, we instead tax and subsidize, making waste cheap and sustainability expensive. To quit distorting price, replace taxes with “land dues” and replace subsidies with a Citizens Dividend.
Matt: “This idea of sharing rents sounds, if not explicitly socialist, at least at odds with some capitalist values (only the strong survive & prosper, etc). Is it fair to say that geonomics has some basis in socialist theory?”
A closer descriptor would be Christian. Beyond ethics into praxis, Alaska shares oil rent with residents, and they’re more libertarian than socialist. While individuals provide labor and capital, no one provides land while society generates its value. Rent is not private property but public property. Sharing Rent is predistribution, sharing it before an elite or state has a chance to get and misspend it, like a public REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) paying dividends to its stakeholders – a perfectly capitalist model. What we should leave untaxed are our sales, salaries, and structures, things we do produce.
close to the policy of the Garden Cities in England. Founded by Ebenezer Howard over a century ago, residents own the land in common and run the town as a business. Letchworth, the oldest of the model towns, serves residents grandly from bucketfuls of collected land rent (as does the Canadian Province of Alberta from oil royalty). A geonomic town would pay the rent to residents, letting them freely choose personalized services, and also ax taxes. Both geonomics and Howard were inspired by American proto-geonomist Henry George. The movement launched by Howard today in the UK advances the shift of taxes from buildings to locations. A recent report from the Town and Country Planning Association proposes this Property Tax Shift and their journal published research in the potential of land value taxation by Tony Vickers (Vol. 69, Part 5, 2000). (Thanks to James Robertson)
a discipline that, compared to economics, is as obscure as Warren Buffett’s investment strategy, compared to conventional investment theory, about which Buffett said, “You couldn’t advance in a finance department in this country unless you taught that the world was flat.” (The New York Times, Oct 29). The writer wondered, “But why? If it works, why don’t more investors use it?”
Good question. Geonomics works, too. Every place that has used it has prospered while conserving resources. Yet it remains off the radar of many wanna-be reformers. Gradually, tho’, that’s changing. More are becoming aware of what geonomics studies – all the money we spend on the nature we use. Geonomics (1) as an alternative worldview to the anthropocentric, sees human economies as part of the embracing ecosystem with natural feedback loops seeking balance in both systems. (2) As an alternative to worker vs. investor, it sees our need for sites and resources making those who own land into landlords. (3)As an alternative to economics, it tracks the trillions of “rent” as it drives the “housing” bubble and all other indicators. And (4) as an alternative to left or right, it suggests we not tax ourselves then subsidize our favorites but recover and share society’s surplus, paying in land dues and getting back “rent” dividends, a la Alaska’s oil dividend. Letting rent go to the wrong pockets wreaks havoc, while redirecting it to everyone would solve our economic ills and the ills downstream from them.
People must learn to stop whining so much and feel enough self-esteem to demand a fair share of rent, society’s surplus, the commonwealth.
one of many words I coined over 20 years ago: geoism, geonomics, geonomy, geocracy, etc – neologisms that later others came up with, too. CNBC once had a Geonomics Show, and Middlebury College has a Geonomics Institute. If “economy” is literally “management of the household”, then geonomy is “management of the planet”. The kind of management I had in mind is not what CNBC was thinking – top-down. My geonomics is not hands-on, interfering, but hands-off, organic. It’d strive to align policy with natural processes, similar to what holistic healing does in medicine, what organic farming does in agriculture. Geonomics attends to two key components: One, the crucial stuff to track is fat – or profit, especially profits without production, such as rent, or all the money we spend on the nature we use. Society’s surplus is the sine qua non for growth, needed to counter death – not merely more, but sustainable development, more from less. Two, the basic process to respect is the feedback loop. These let nature maintain balance automatically and could do the same for markets, if we let them. Letting them would turn our economies, now our masters, into a geonomy, our servant, providing us with prosperity, eco-librium (to coin a term) and leisure, time off – a hostile environment for economan but a cradle for a loving and creative humanity.
more transformation than reform; it’s a step ahead. Harvard economics students this year did petition to change the curriculum, in the wake of the English who caught the dissension from across The Channel. French reformers, who fault conventional economics for conjuring mathematical models of little empirical relevance and being closed to critical and reflective thought, reject this “autism” – or detachment from reality – and dub their offering “post-autistic economics”. Not a bad name, but again, academics define themselves by what they’re not, not by what they are, unlike geonomists. We track rent – the money we spend on the nature we use – and watch it pull all the other economic indicators in its wake. We see economies as part of the ecosystem, similarly following natural patterns and able to self-regulate more so than allowed, once we quit distorting prices. To align people and planet, we’d replace taxes and subsidies with recovering and sharing rents.
a study of a phenomenon David Ricardo noted going on two centuries ago. When wine grapes rise to $10,000 a ton from the very best land (last year, cabernet sauvignon commanded an average of $4,021 a ton in the Napa Valley), then vineyard prices soar from $18,000 an acre in the 1980′s to $100,000 an acre five years ago and now for a top pedigree up to $300,000 an acre (The New York Times, April 9, via Wyn Achenbaum). Pricey land does not make wine pricey; spendy wine makes land spendy. While vintners make their wine tasty, nature and society in general – not any lone owner – make land desireable. Steve Kerch of CBS’s MarketWatch (April 5) notes that much of what a home sells for on the open market is a reflection of intangible factors such as what school district the house sits in. The price the builder has to pay for the land also tends to be driven by the same intangibles. Because the value of land comes from society, and because one’s use excludes the rest of society, each user owes all others compensation, and is owed compensation by everyone else. Sharing land’s value, instead of taxing one’s efforts, is the policy of geonomics.
as unfamiliar as geo-economics. The latter is a course some universities offer that combines geography and economics. A UN newsletter, Go Between (57, Apr/May ’96; thanks, Pat Aller), cited an Asian conference on geopolitics and “geoeconomics”. The abbreviated term ‘geonomics” is the name of an institute on Middlebury College campus and of a show on CNBC. Both entities use the neologism to mean “global economics”, in particular world trade. We use geonomics entirely differently, to refer to the money people spend on the nature they use, how letting this flow collect in a few pockets creates class and poverty and assaults upon the environment, and how, on the other hand, sharing this rental flow creates equality, prosperity, and a people/planet harmony. This flow of natural rent, several trillions dollars in the US each year, shapes society and belongs to society.
suitable for framing by Green Parties. When Greens began in Germany two decades ago, they defined themselves as neither left nor right but in front. Geonomics fits that description. The Green Parties have their Four Pillars; geonomists have four ways to apply them:
Ecological Wisdom. Want people to use the eco-system wisely? Charge them Rent and, to end corporate license, add surcharges. To minimize these costs, people will use less Earth.
Nonviolence. Want people to settle disputes nonviolently? Set a good example; don’t levy taxes, which rely on the threat of incarceration, to take people’s money. Try quid pro quo fees and dues.
Social Responsibility. Want people to be responsible for their actions? Don’t make basic choices for them by subsidizing services, addicting them to a caretaker state. Let people spend shares of social surplus.
Grassroots Democracy. Better have grassroots prosperity. Remember, political power follows economic. Pay people a Citizens Dividend; to keep it, they’ll show up at the polls, public hearings, and conventions.